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BWW Reviews: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE Tries to Tame a Pampered Starlet on Her Wedding Day

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE offers audiences a toe-tapping trip back to the golden age of musicals, and took Broadway by storm, winning five Tony Awards. It spoofs musical-comedy fanatics and the genre itself, as well as the extravagant musicals of the 1920s. Critics have called "The Drowsy Chaperone" one of the wittiest, craziest shows ever to hit Broadway. It's all fluff and fun, produced by the Norris Center for the Performing Arts.

The show opens as a modern-day musical theatre fanatic (Larry Raben) tries to chase the blues away by playing his favorite cast album - the fictional 1928 smash hit, "The Drowsy Chaperone." From the crackle of the hi-fi, the musical magically bursts to life in his living room, and he is suddenly immersed in the glamorous and hilarious tale of a pampered Broadway starlet (Jessica Ernest) who wants to give up show business to get married, while her producer (Greg Nicholas) plots to sabotage the nuptials so he won't have to replace her with his latest bubble-headed bombshell Kitty (Noelle Marion).

Larry Raben stays onstage throughout the show, often assisting with set changes and even dancing in a few of the big production numbers. His albums are his prize collectables, and you can be sure before a needle touches any of them that he has painstakingly dusted any possible hazardous material from its surface. Younger audiences may not understand the reverence he feels, but those of us who grew up cherishing our albums certainly will chuckle out of the recurring bit. And Raben emanates his ardor for the show, its music and actors from every pore of his being as he takes us from scene to scene, giving background on each character and storyline in Biblical proportions.

Director James Gruessing created a most interesting way of splitting reality and fantasy by having the actors freeze in place whenever Raben is speaking to the audience about them or the storyline. And these actors really have mastered the technique as there was not one bit of movement during any of these many freeze-frame scenes.

Adding to the uproarious wedding day mayhem is a cast of colorful characters including the starlet's tipsy chaperone (Tracy Lore), debonair groom Robert (Eric Michael Parker), over-the-top Latin lover Aldolpho (Jeff Max), a pair of uproarious gangsters disguised as pastry chefs (Jon M. Wailin and Adam Trent who manage to steal every scene they are in), and an aviatrix (Lindsay Martin). The comical show within a show is enhanced by the outrageously adaptable set and fanciful costumes provided by FCLO Musical Theatre.

Jessica Ernest is especially engaging with her spectacular long legs and athletic abilities, used to perfection in her "Bride's Lament." Her opening number "Show Off" in which she claims to not want to be in the spotlight any longer proves just the opposite. Ms. Ernest is perfectly suited to the spotlight and manages to display many useless talents which seem to make her all the more valuable to her producer.

Eric Michael Parker is a riot as the groom-to-be Robert, blindfolded on roller skates in "Accident Waiting to Happen." He and his best man George (Chris Daniel) tap their way through "Cold Feets" which is highlighted when the Underling (Danny Michaels) appears to wait on them, tapping his way across the stage in unison. This is musical theater spoof at its best!

Tracy Lore and Jeff Max share a few ridiculously sexy moments as the Chaperone seduces "Aldopho." Ms. Lore's spectacular, sparkly red ensemble was my favorite costume in the show, as she embodies it with all the style and flashiness it deserves during her anthem about alcoholism "As We Stumble Along." Both actors handle their over-the-top characters with just the right mix of absurdity and humor.

Vaudevillian couple Mrs. Tottendale (Lindsay Brooks) and the Underling (Danny Michaels) provide much comic relief throughout the show, with many spit takes involving ice water and vodka. Even this couple proves that love is always lovely in the end!

The Norris Center for the Performing Arts presents the Tony award-winning musical comedy THE DROWSY CHAPERONE with Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, Directed by James Gruessing, with choreography by Ann Meyers and musical direction by Daniel Thomas. Performances run April 25-May 11 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $45 adult, $25 children. The Norris Center is located at 27570 Norris Center Drive, Palos Verdes Peninsula. (310) 544-0403

The 18-member cast stars Broadway veteran Larry Raben (Man in Chair), Tracy Lore (Drowsy Chaperone), Jessica Ernest (Janet Van De Graaf), Jeff Max (Adolpho), Eric Michael Parker (Robert), Lindsay Brooks (Mrs. Tottendale), Greg Nicholas (Feldzeig), Chris Daniel (George), Noelle Marion (Kitty), Danny Michaels (Underling) Adam Trent (Gangster #1) and John Wailin (Gangster #2).

For more information or to purchase tickets visit or call (310) 544-0403. The Norris Theatre is located at 27570 Norris Center Drive in Rolling Hills Estates. Free parking is available adjacent to the theatre, and the facility is wheelchair accessible.

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